Review-chronicle of Human Rights Violations in Belarus in October-November 2008
At the end of September the elections to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus were over. In October the candidates continued appealing against the official results. The Central Election Commission received 35 complaints. At its sitting on 13 October the CEC rejected the complaints of 27 candidates. On 24 October five more complaints were turned down as well. Mikalai Lazavik, secretary of the Central Election Commission, stated that the plaintiffs had no more instances to complain to: ‘according to the election laws in such issues the decision of the Central Election Commission is final and is without appeal’.
On 9 October the sitting of the Presidium of the political council of the United Democratic Forces summed up the results of the parliamentary election. In the presidium’s resolution it was stated that ‘at the final stage of the election to the Chamber of Representatives at certain constituencies democratic candidates faced with serious counteraction in their electoral activities’. The authors of the document pointed that, despite Alexander Lukashenka’s official statements, observers were not admitted to the majority of precincts for monitoring of the vote counting, and in some cases observers of the United Democratic Forces were removed from precincts by representatives of law-enforcement agencies.
The opposition’s leaders stated that ‘the authorities rejected the constructive proposal of political parties on holding of TV debates between the pro-governmental candidates and the UDF ones concerning the daily issues that interested the electorate. The authorities also used the procedure of early voting in order to provide the attendance and manipulate the election results.’ The presidium of the political council of the UDF shared the opinion of the OSCE observation mission, according to which the election did not correspond to democratic standards. It also proves the rightness of the UDF strategy, aimed at presentation of convincing evidence of the non-democratic nature of the election campaign at all its stages and of manipulation of the election results. The opposition leaders considered the concentration of their efforts on amendment of the electoral legislation and the practice of its usage as one of the most important tasks of the UDF, aimed at holding really free and fair elections.
On 9 October the European Parliament adopted its resolution on Belarus by the overwhelming majority of votes. 598 deputies voted for it, 31 – against and 22 deputies abstained. The resolution called upon the executive organs of the EU to simplify the procedure of giving European visas to Belarusian citizens, suspend the visa sanctions to some Belarusian officials for six months to give them some time for reviewing the discriminative law on mass media. At the same time, the proposal to suspend the Visa sanctions did not concern the persons who participated in violations of democratic electoral standards and Human Rights. Meanwhile, in its resolution the European Parliament expressed its deep disappointment with the fact that none of the democratic changes for which the EU hoped have took place in Belarus and the election (despite small improvements) did not correspond to the OSCE standards. The EU also urged the Belarusian government to abolish a number of articles of the Criminal Codes that were used for repressing political opponents, to abstain from persecution of the Belarusian students who studied abroad after expulsion from the Belarusian high schools because of their civil activities, and also to remove obstacles on the way on NGOs’ registration. Belarus was also criticized for still being the only European country that used the death penalty.
On 13 October the European Union suspended for six months the Visa sanctions against Lukashenka and other high-ranking state officials that had been introduced after presidential election 2006. Only the four figurants of Pourgourides’ memo (Navumau, Paulichenka, Sheiman and Sivakou) and the head of the Central Election Commission, Lidziya Yarmoshyna, were left on the black list. The US did not join this decision. According to the deputy assistant of the US Secretary of State, David Merkel, Washington reacted to release of political prisoners in Belarus with six-month suspension of economical sanctions against two Belarusian enterprises – Belnaftakhim – Lakafarba (Belarusian oil chemistry – Laquer and Paints and Polatskshklovalakno (Polatsk Fiberglass). The US intended to soften the sanctions against Belarus if the official Minsk made new steps for improvement of the situation of Human Rights and development of the civil society.
Belarus was on the 154th place out of 173 in the rating of freedom of mass media for 2008, published by the international Human Rights organization Reporters without Borders. According to the organization’s experts, the situation of mass media did not improve in comparison with 2007. This year’s place is even lower than the last year’s one (151st). In the report of Reporters without Borders it was stated that the Belarusian authorities who hold the monopoly on electronic mass media continue pressurizing independent press and internet editions.
1. Freedom of expression and the right to disseminate information
On 6 October the editorial office of the state monopolist Belsayuzdruk again refused to sell the independent newspaper Nasha Niva at the state newsstands. In his interview to the press-service of the Belarusian Association of Journalists the chief editor of Nasha Niva, Andrei Skurko, said that the editorial office would continue making cooperation proposals to Belsayuzdruk in order to show that it would not put with economical and political discrimination of non-state press. Bear in mind that in the beginning of 2006 (on the eve of the presidential election) Belsayuzdruk broke the sale agreements with Nasha Niva and a number of other non-state newspapers. Another state monopolist, Belposhta, simultaneously refused to distribute these newspapers by subscription. The attempts of the excluded newspapers to return to the sate distribution system gave no result.
On 5 November the College Board of Hrodna regional court reversed the verdict of Iuye district court on confession the materials that had been published in August issue of an unregistered newspaper Svaboda extremist. The judges of the regional court stated that Iuye district court had considered the case with violations of the legal procedures (in absence of all interested sides). That’s why the case was returned for the second trial.
On 19 November photo-correspondent, Uladz Hrydzin, accompanied the youth activists of the BPP Party who were handing out leaflets with the text of the Declaration of Students’ Rights at the Belarusian National Technical University in order to mark the International Student Day. The university guards detained the youngsters together with the journalist and passed them to the police. Then the detainees were taken to the police station. In 1,5 hours all of them were released.
On 21 November the members of Young Democrats (youth organization of the United Civil Party), Danila Barysevich and Mikhail Pashkevich, were detained in the building of Minsk Savetski district executive committee for distribution of the officially registered newspaper Novy Chas. Barysevich and Pashkevich came to the offices and offered the newspaper to the officials. In response one of the officials called the police. As a result the detainees were taken to the police station.
2. The right to association
In October the deputy head of Homel regional organization of the United Civil Party, Uladzimir Katsora, applied to the Constitutional Court with the demand to implement the decision of the UN Human Rights Committee on the renewal of the legal status of the Civil Initiatives NGO. In October 2006 the Committee stated that the Civil Initiatives that had been liquidated in 2003 was to be rehabilitated in 90-day term after adoption of the abovementioned opinions on violations of the right to association by the Belarusian authorities. However, numerous addresses to the state organs of Belarus gave no results. That’s why U. Katsora asked the Constitutional Court to take measures for protection of civil rights of the organization’s members. Similar addresses were directed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice.
On 16 October the Ministry of Justice refused to register the publican association of Belarusian pensioners Our Generation. According to the head of the department of public associations of the Ministry of Justice, Aleh Slizheuski, the organization was not registered because of the written statements of its members: one of them allegedly had not taken part in its constituent assembly and another stated that the assembly had been held in Minsk, not in Minsk regional, as it was stated in the documents that were passed for registration.
Members of the initiative group of the NGO said they would defend their right to association, defend the rights of pensioners and deal with informational and educational activities. By the way, in 2005-2006 many of members of Our Generation tried to establish the republican association of pensioners under the title Stareishyny (Elders). The Ministry of Justice also refused to register it. The refusal was also upheld by the Supreme Court, at which the organization founders appealed against the ministry’s decision.
3. The right to peaceful assemblies
In October Minsk authorities refused to lend to the BPF Party an office for celebration of its 20th anniversary. The party administration intended to hold a large solemn event at the Culture House of the Minsk Automobile Plant on 19 October. On 9 September an appropriate requirement was submitted to the administration of the Culture House and to the administration of the International Education Center that was considered as an alternative by the party administration. On 15 September the party also addressed the presidential administration and Minsk city executive committee with the request to foster the renting of one of the abovementioned or any other premises. The presidential administration forwarded this statement to Minsk city executive committee. Minsk CEC, in its turn, informed the party administration that ‘determination of the place of the assembly is the duty of the persons who are responsible for organizing and holding this event’.
On 20 October the Supreme Court did not grant the complaint of Brest activist, Andrei Sharenda, who had been sentenced to a huge fine for participation in the action of protest of entrepreneurs on 21 January. The oppositionist stated that such punishment violated his civil rights, including the right to expression and the right to peaceful assemblies.
Astravets district executive committee did not grant the application of Ivan Kruk and Mikalai Ulasevich for holding of five informational pickets in Astravets district for informing the population about the dangers and possible consequences of construction of a nuclear power station on the territory of one of the ecologically cleanest areas of Belarus. The organizing committee of the civil initiative against construction of the nuclear power station is headed by the teacher of geography Mikalai Ulasevich. In the answer, signed by the first deputy head of Astravets district executive committee Slavinski it was stated that ‘the aims and methods of the picket excess the demands, presented in the Law of the Republic of Belarus of 30 December 1997 #114-3 ‘About mass events in the Republic of Belarus’.
4. Politically motivated criminal cases
On 27 October in Minsk the civil activist, Alexander Barazenka, the last defendant in the ‘process of 14’, was detained and placed to pre-trial prison. There he held one-week hunger-strike of protest against the restraint. According to Barazenka’s lawyer, Pavel Sapelka, the trial could be appointed earlier or the restraint to his defendant could be changed so that he would not have spent so much time in jail. However, the authorities did not do it. The trial was appointed on 8 December. At first it was announced that the case would be tried by Judge Valery Yesman (but he was deprived of his seat because of involvement in corruption crimes), then – that it would be Natallia Vaitsiakhovich.
Youth activists held a number of actions of solidarity with the political prisoner. Some of them ended with detentions. In particular, on 24 November the police detained 13 participants of one of such actions with the use of physical force. According to Palina Dziakava, all detainees were escorted to Maskouski district police department. There they were fingerprinted and their passport data were taken down.
At the end of October, Uladzimir Siarheyeu (another defendant in the ‘process of 14’, coordinator of Young Belarusin Minsk) received an official answer from Minsk city court, signed by its chairman V.Putsila. The court did not grant Siarheyenka’s review complaint against the verdict by which he had been sentenced to pay 3.5 million rubles fine (about $1,643) for participation in the protest act of entrepreneurs. In the answer it was stated that ‘the defendant’s guilt has been completely proved and there are no reasons for reversal of the judgment’. This decision was taken despite all absurdity of the case, Siarheyeu’s arguments about numerous process violations, contractions of the policemen’s testimonies to the reality, illegal use of doubtful video and photo materials as evidence, etc. ‘Now nothing is left to us but to continue struggling for justice and abolishment of the sentence. I will participate in informational campaigns together with other 13 defendants and Young Belarus for getting the sentences abolished. We must influence the events as long as we have such opportunity,’ commented Uladzimir Siarheyeu.
In November the criminal cases against three suspects in relation to the blast that took place in Minsk on 3-4 July were dropped. On 29 October one of them, Mikhail Sharamet, received an appropriate letter from the main police department of Minsk city executive committee. Suspicion was also removed from the leader of the unregistered organization Right Alliance, Yury Karetnikau, and the Human Rights defender, Illia Bohdan.
5. Administrative detentions and punishments to civil and political activists
On 1 October, after the end of the parliamentary election, in Babruisk civil activist Alexander Chyhir was taken to prison for serving 10-day arrest. The administrative case has been brought against Chyhir after the incident with a taxi driver who was driving Chyhir, his wife and child home on 29 May. The driver refused to give to the passengers the receipt (he had no cash register) and took them to the police station instead. Then Alexander Chyhir was accused of threatening the driver, defilement of the car and insubordination to the police. Despite the fact that Alexander Chyhir was beaten by the policemen, their actions were professed lawful and the activist was fined 2.1 million rubles (about $913). In addition, Chyhir was sentenced to pay 900,000 rubles to the driver, Siarhei Kasilovich, for the harm allegedly done to his car.
On 24 October the judge of Svetlahorsk district court, Iryna Aliseika, fined three democratic activists (the head of Salihorsk district organization of the Party of Belarusian Communists, Sviatlana Mikhalchanka, and the members of the Belarusian Popular Front Party, Viktar Akhramchuk and Siarhei Shavialenka) 1.4 million rubles (about $657) each. The activists were detained by the police on the eve of the parliamentary elections. All of them were proxies of the candidate of the United Democratic Forces, Siarhei Daineka. Tovarishch newspapers and small-format editions Vybar-08 and Glotok Vozdukha were confiscated from them. The police also searched Mikhalchanka’s apartment. After the election the oppositionists were summoned to the local prosecutor’s office that submitted to the court the violation reports against them. The activists were accused of distribution of Vybor-08 that had no imprint and also in the insult of the honor and dignity of the state officials that was allegedly found in the articles of Glotok Vozdukha. Judge Aliseika rejected the petition expertise of the content of the articles, filed by the defendants’ lawyer.
On 13 October Leninski district court of Hrodna sentenced to large fines three civil activists who protested against cutting down of old trees in Telehrafny alley. According to the biologist and ecologist Ihar Lapekha, such works are performed in Hrodna with evident violations of the present legislation. The case was tried by Natalli Kozel, known by her hard verdicts on political cases. Edvard Dmukhouski was found guilty of petty hooliganism (Article 17.1) and fined 175,000 rubles (about $82). Ihar Lapekha was found guilty under two articles – Article 17.1 and Article 23, part 44 (insubordination to duty officials) and was fined 1,050,000 rubles (about $493). Unemployed Nadzeya Krapivina was also found guilty under two articles and fined 875,000 rubles (about $411).
On 26 November Vitsebsk regional court reversed the verdict of Vitsebsk Chyhunachny court, by which the ex-candidate for parliament, Andrei Levinau, was fined 350,000 rubles ($164) for allegedly purposeful infliction of bodily harm to A. Zakharau, policeman of Vitsebsk city executive committee. In his complaint Andrei Levinau said that he had not committed the crime in which he was accused and drew the facts that witnessed fabrication of the case. He also pointed out numerous process violations during the trial.
6. Torture and other kinds of cruel and inhuman treatment
On 9 October in Salihorsk the Human Rights activist, Yana Paliakova, was beaten up by unknown people. She was beaten again at the police department.
‘Someone came up to me, hit me at the back of the head and said: ‘If you, bitch, don’t shut up, this is the last warning!’ I wear a plait, and he snatched it and hit my head on the doors or a knob, or something else’, Yana Paliakova tells.
The Human Rights told that she called an emergency ambulance and the police from the house. She received medical care at an emergency station, after that she waited for the police for a long time. From the emergency station she was taken to a police department to write a complaint on the attack.
Yana Paliakova said she felt bad at the police department. When she tried to go outside, she felt a blow. ‘They seized me by my sweater and pushed, I fell down to the floor. I sat and couldn’t stand up. My tailbone was aching, my leg hurts even now, I can’t stand on it,’ Paliakova told.
On 30 August Yana Paliakova was detained in Salihorsk. According to her, people in civvies and a district policeman offered her to sign some documents. When the woman took them to read, she was hit on her hands, and then on her legs. Doctors have documented bruises.
During the election to the House of Representatives, Yana Paliakova gathered signatures for Volha Kazulina. Human Rights defenders think that the policemen tried to intimidate her in such a way.
7. Violations of electoral rights
The prosecutor’s office refused to consider the complaint of the secretary of the organizing committee of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party, Dzianis Sadouski, ex-candidate at Masiukoushchynskaya electoral constituency #103. The day after the elections Sadouski submitted to the prosecutor’s office the statements and acts about violations of the Electoral Code of the Republic of Belarus, drawn up by him and his proxies. On 9 October these documents were returned to Mr. Sadouski. The senior adviser of the prosecutor’s office of Frunzenski district of Minsk stated A.Svirydovich stated that they were submitted with ‘violation of the legal requirements’. ‘In my address I demanded that the investigation of the registered violations of the electoral legislation was conducted and the persons who falsified the election were punished. I also demanded that a repeated voting was held. Instead I received a usual come-off: that my complaint could not be considered for formal reasons. The lawlessness which could be observed during the elections continues at the prosecutor’s office’ stated Dzianis Sadouski.
In October election commission of Buda-Kashalyova constituency filed a lawsuit against a former candidate for deputy, Kastus Zhukouski, in order to exact from him 1.7 million rubles for withdrawal from the election.
In an interview to BelaPAN the chairperson of the Central Election Committee, Lidziya Yarmoshyna, told that the former candidates for deputies who withdrew from the election were to compensate the means given to them for producing agitation materials. The CEC secretary, Mikalai Lazavik, focused on the reasons for withdrawal. ‘If a candidate used the means for production of agitation materials and then withdrew from the election without a good excuse, he must compensate these means according to the legislation’, he said. However, the law does not describe what can and what cannot be considered as a good excuse.
Mr. Zhukouski said that the main reason for his withdrawal from the election was the inequality of conditions for electoral agitation. In addition, the authorities did not include any of 16 proposed representatives of democratic forces in the precinct commissions at his constituency. On 20 November the judge of Tsentralny district court of Homel Zhana Andreichyk granted the lawsuit of the election commission and obliged Kastus Zhukouski to return the spent finances.
On 20 November Sianno district court fined the member a polling station commission, teacher of secondary school of the village of Khodsy, Natalli Nikitsina 700,000 rubles (about $329). On 26 September, during early voting, members of the initiative group of candidate Siarhei Vazniak caught her in action while falsifying election documents. Mr. Vazniak emphasized that it seemed to be the only case when a person had violated the election laws was punished. In fact, numerous falsifications were hushed up.
8. Politically dismissals from work and expulsions from educational establishments
In the beginning of November the 18-year-old activist, Stanislau Senakosau, was expelled from Mahiliou professional lyceum #2 with the formulation ‘for gross violation of discipline’. ‘I think that my expulsion is connected to my public activism. Some time ago I had a talk with the administration. They said that I would have problems with education if I did not stop it and would be expelled after turning 18 years. Recently I have come of age. I missed one lesson and was expelled for it. In the order it is stated that I violated the internal regulations of the school,’ said Stanislau Senakosau.
The former candidate to the parliament Viktar Padchynenkau was dismissed from the position of carpenter at a private firm. On 1 October his boss asked him to write application for quitting on his own will, as some officers of security services demanded that that he dismissed Viktar.